Shooting by Bakersfield business owner raises legal questions

August 7, 2019 | 6:00 am


The police investigation continues in the case of a Bakersfield business owner who chased suspected burglars from his property and shot one of them as they fled.

The case has sparked questions about self-defense and protecting property — as covered by a KGET-17 News story that featured Chain | Cohn | Stiles personal injury attorney David Cohn — but also about negligence and liability issues that come with discharging firearms.

Learn more about the case, and legal issues related to this case, below.

 

THE CASE

At about 6 a.m. on July 30, the Bakersfield Police Department responded to reports of two suspicious people at Power Performance Air Conditioning on the 1400 block of Easton Drive in Bakersfield. Shortly after, the business owner told police that the two people fled in a vehicle, and he was chasing them in his own car. Eventually, the vehicles veered into the river bed, one vehicle hit another, and the burglary suspects’ car went into the Truxtun Lake. As the vehicle was in the water, the business owner fired his gun, striking one of the suspects. He was taken to Kern Medical Center and was expected to survive. The other person fled on foot. The business owner stayed on scene and cooperated with police, according to news reports.

No arrests have been made.

Bakersfield Police Officer Bryon Sandrini told ABC23 News that “protecting your property with life threatening issues is not the best idea.” And Kern County Deputy District Attorney Joe Kinzle told the news that when citizens try to arrest people without trained law enforcement officials, it can be tricky to determine the best course of action on your own.

“If the crime is a misdemeanor it has to occur in the presence of the person essentially making the arrest,” he said. “That’s not true for felonies but affecting an arrest of someone you can only use force that is reasonable.”

Reasonable force would have to be determined in court if authorities ultimately decide to move forward with this case.

 

GUNS AND LIABILITY

In some situations, gun shot victims and their families can be entitled to financial compensation for their injuries, expenses, or emotional distress. Gun accident liability may fall to the firearm owner, the person who fired the gun, the firearm seller, or even the gun manufacturer.

Here are some examples where someone could be held civilly liable in the case of a shooting:

  • Inadequate Training: Knowing the proper way to handle a firearm is essential for everyone’s safety. Without proper firearms training, the odds of gun injuries can rise dramatically.
  • Lack of Supervision: It is negligent for parents to fail to secure firearms out of the reach of children. Not only could someone receive a civil complaint in the case of an injury or death due to a gun discharge, but the gun owner may be criminally liable as well.
  • Reckless Firearm Handling: Aiming guns recklessly, playing with a gun, failing to keep the safety engaged, and celebratory firing into the air are some examples of reckless and negligent behavior.
  • Hunting Accidents: Hunters may fail to identify a target while shooting for game or can fail to maintain a safe firing zone. Wearing proper safety gear while hunting, which can identify people versus game, is vital.
  • Improper Maintenance: It is possible that guns can rupture or explode if not poorly maintained.
  • Improper Use of Ammunition: Using the wrong caliber or size ammunition can lead to dangerous firearm malfunctions.
  • Intoxication: Never drink and shoot. In fact, accidental firearm discharge after consuming alcohol or other drugs is a leading cause of gun injuries.
  • Poor Range Management: Common gun range injuries include incidents caused by slipping and falling on ejected shell casings, or leaked gun oil.
  • Manufacturer Defects: Gun owners expect their firearms to function correctly and according to model specifications. If a firearm unexpectedly discharges or breaks apart, the manufacturer and the store where the owner purchased the firearm may be made to pay under product liability laws in the case of injuries.

 

ACCIDENTS VERSUS NEGLIGENCE

Accidents can happen even when the gun owner had proper training and took all reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of others. For example, a gun can slip from the owners hands, fall to ground and discharge, striking a passerby.

Negligent discharge occurs when the gun owner or shooter fails to exercise reasonable care and precaution when handling the gun, thereby endangering the safety of others. Using the above example, it would be negligent for the gun owner to consume alcohol or drugs before handling the gun that then falls to the floor and discharges. In other words, the gun accidents were caused by behavior that unreasonably jeopardized the safety of others.

The Bakersfield business owner in the case highlighted above could be potentially charged with a crime, or could be civilly liable, said attorney David Cohn.

“You certainly do not have a right under the law to shoot someone especially if they are not threatening you with any type of deadly force,” Cohn said. “It seems that the people he was chasing, they may have been the people who were actually in fear.”

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.⁣⁣⁣⁣

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Property maintenance is key to avoid injuries, premises liability claims

October 11, 2017 | 9:31 am


Premises-Hazard-Blog

The following article by Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark appeared in the Kern Business Journal. To view the PDF print version of the Kern Business Journal click here

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Maintaining your property so that it is safe for your customers, employees and visitors should be a top priority for all businesses. Premises liability lawsuits are one the most common claims made against businesses.

At Chain | Cohn | Stiles, we regularly receive calls from Kern County residents injured due to poorly maintained property. Oftentimes, these injuries lead to cases, and these cases end up in litigation, costing businesses time and money. In almost every instance, the injury, and subsequent lawsuit, could have been avoided with proper maintenance and inspection, and a basic understanding of premises liability law.

Premises liability claims typically fall into one of two major categories: standard premises liability, or premises liability against a public entity, oftentimes referred to as a “dangerous condition of public property.” In this article, we will focus on the former, which applies to all private businesses and an injury claim made by a non-employee. Also, it is important to note that an injury claimed by an employee normally falls into the worker’s compensation system, which is a “no fault” system, meaning the law relating to liability is largely inapplicable.

Premises liability claims

If someone claims to be injured on your property, he or she needs to prove four things to win their case:

  1. That you owned, leased and/or controlled the property;
  2. That you were negligent in the use or maintenance of your property;
  3. That they suffered an injury; and,
  4. That your negligence was a substantial factor in causing their injury.

Property owners are expected to use reasonable care to discover any unsafe conditions, and to repair or give warning of any condition that could be reasonably expected to harm others. If an injured party can ultimately prove that a dangerous condition existed on the property, that the owner knew or should have known the condition was present on the property, and that the owner failed to correct the condition, or give adequate warning, the injured party will likely prevail.

But how does it work in a practical sense?  If, for example, you fail to maintain your parking lot to the extent that it is full of potholes, uneven surfaces, or broken and cracked asphalt and someone falls, you may be liable for their injuries. If a customer spilled something inside your store and you have no protocol or procedure in place to regularly inspect the condition of the floor, and then hours later another customer slips and falls, you could be liable. If your business operates at night, and you have an area outside that is so poorly lit that things like curbs, parking bumpers, or medians are invisible and someone falls, you could be liable.

What you can do

As a best practice, your business should regularly inspect your property and keep a record of the inspections (think of inspection records inside most public restrooms, for example). If during an inspection, you come across a condition or defect that poses a danger to others, you should immediately cordon off the area, put up warnings if necessary – such as wet floor signs or warning tape – and then correct the defect as quickly possible.

Under most circumstances, businesses make timely repairs to defects they are aware of. The failure occurs when there is not a regular inspection policy in place, and defects go unnoticed.

So, if you take one bit of advice away from this brief article it should be: put a policy in place to regularly inspect your businesses’ property, do the inspections, and keep a record that you did it.

Matthew Clark is a senior partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles where he focuses on wrongful death, industrial accidents, and motor vehicle accident cases, among other injury cases for people of Kern County.

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*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.